In a time when poetry seems to have re-acquired a reputation for being a public enterprise with poetry readings and slams, it is good sometimes to read a poem alone. You are now communing with a poet, with the best part of a poet. As Eunice de Souza once famously remarked,

“Best to meet in poems:
cool speckled shells
in which one hears
a sad but distant sea.”

De Souza and Melanie Silgardo edited one of the best anthologies, These My Words: The Penguin Book of Indian Poetry, and this is my go-to book in solitude. I keep it by my bed and I dip into it before I go to sleep. It guarantees interesting dreams.

There are cool speckled shells here but there are all kinds of other organisms, some alive in their own language, some translated from various languages into English.

Here’s Thangjam Ibopishak in a poem called Poem translated from the Manipuri by Robin Ngangom.

“Now in this land
One cannot speak aloud
One cannot think openly
So poem,
Like a flower I sport with you.”

I loved Gopal Honnalgere’s How to Tame a Pair of New Chappals. The opening lines:

“don’t keep them together
don’t allow them to talk to each other
they may form a trade union”

I never met Honnalgere and I never met Srinivas Rayaprol and neither is with us, but I feel that I might be able to recognise them were we to meet in some altered state of time and consciousness. (Poetry allows for that.) But there are other friends here and their voices, unfiltered by telephone lines, come across and bring with them the music of all humanity.

Other stories in The Art of Solitude series:

The Art of Solitude: Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Shadow Lines’ is a home away from home

The Art of Solitude: Ranjit Hoskote considers the prayerful joy of ‘Annunciation’ during lockdown

The Art of Solitude: A Norwegian folk song that is cathartic, sublime and uplifting